The Internet practically exploded when it was announced that Zendaya would take on the role of Michelle, Peter Parker’s new love interest in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Many pointed out that Michelle is the reimagined version of Mary Jane Watson, which was a character that we haven’t seen since the first Spiderman series by director Sam Raimi.
With such a huge response to Zendaya’s casting in Spider-Man: Homecoming, there’s bound to be polarizing opinions. Those opinions erupted into a frenzy of people negatively reacting to Zendaya in the role over her race.
Black MJ is a poor attempt to create controversy to make everyone forget that Andrew Garfield ruined Spider-Man. https://t.co/pAXbZYWO6h
— Josh (@TrevorMcFredson) August 19, 2016
— Phil NJbcFan (@NJbcFan) August 19, 2016
“Zendaya will be playing Mary Jane in the new Spider-Man-“
No no no no, GOD WHY??
— Ethan H (@iceysunshine14) August 19, 2016
In response, director James Gunn, who directed Guardians of the Galaxy, is coming forward to address the controversy this casting announcement has caused on social media.
In a Facebook post, Gunn said that he encourages the casting of African American actors in roles often played by Caucasian actors and actresses.
“People get upset when something they consider intrinsic to a comic book character changes when adapted for a film. I get this. There are movies I dislike because I think there’s a basic misunderstanding of the story or the character when the comic is transferred to film.”
— Colossill (@ColossILL) August 20, 2016
Gunn went on to say that he tweeted in support of Zendaya, and after that all hell broke loose, but that’s not to say there weren’t positive reactions to his tweet. The director said that he only engaged with those responses on Twitter because he can’t respond to racists.
He then went on to explain why MJ’s appearance isn’t important to the more intrinsic qualities of the character.
“For me, if a character’s primary attribute – the thing that makes them iconic – is the color of their skin, or their hair color, frankly, that character is shallow and sucks. For me, what makes MJ MJ is her alpha female playfulness, and if the actress captures that, then she’ll work. And, for the record, I think Zendaya even matches what I think of as MJ’s primary physical characteristics – she’s a tall, thin model – much more so than actresses have in the past.”
— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) August 19, 2016
This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen this controversy after an African American was cast as a popular white character in the comic book world. For instance, there was extensive coverage on Michael B. Jordan being cast as The Human Torch aka Johnny Storm in Fantastic 4. There were also people against Will Smith playing Deadshot in Suicide Squad, and as it turns out, many people praised Smith in the role.
James Gunn even highlighted the backlash Michael B. Jordan received when he was announced as Johnny Storm in Fantastic 4.
“I do not believe a character is the color of his or her skin. When Michael B Jordan was cast as Johnny Storm I didn’t understand the uproar. The primary characteristic of Johnny was not, to me, that he was white, or that he had blonde hair, but that he was a fiery, funny, big-mouthed braggart of a hero. I was happy that he was going to be played by one of the finest and most charming young actors out there.”
As for Sony, no one at the studio has confirmed whether or not Zendaya has been cast as MJ aka Michelle, but the Hollywood Reporter, which is the source that usually reports big news on tent pole projects, is still sticking behind its report.
[Photo by Sony]